Equipment spotlight: skid steer loader

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Equipment Spotlight - Skid steer loader

Like all great inventions, the skid steer loader was borne out of necessity - specifically the necessity of a clean barn.

Making the leap from small-to large-scale poultry producer, farmer Eddie Velo increased the turkey population at his Rothsay, Minnesota farm. Velo housed the turkeys in a large two-storey barn that made it impossible to clean up the turkey manure with a traditional wheel loader.1

Velo sought the help of local farm machinery repair and fabricators Cyril and Louis Keller.2  Velo and the Kellers stuck up a deal: Velo would fund the production of a light-weight front loader to clean out the confined quarters of the barn, but if the invention didn't work, Velo would not pay for labor.

The first skid steer loader

In 1957, using scrap parts such as jail bars for loader arms, the two brothers developed the Keller loader: a light-weight, compact three-wheeled self-propelled loader powered by 6.6 hp engine.1 The loader's left and right wheels were designed to act independently and were steered by separate left and right levers, allowing the machine to skid when steered in opposite directions.  Much like today's modern day skid steer loader, the Keller loader could turn within its own length, making it perfect for tight spaces.2

The first skid steer loader

From Keller to Melroe

In 1958 the Kellers sold the rights to the loader to the Melroe Manufacturing Company and became employees of the company known primarily for its agricultural equipment.2 The brothers continued to refine their design and in 1959 developed the first Melroe loader, powered by a 9 hp Wisconsin engine.3

The M60 was Melroe's first self-propelled loader to go into production. It featured a 12.9 hp two-cylinder ONAN engine and a unique boom design dubbed the "grasshopper" because it resembled the bent legs of a grasshopper.3 Later designs featured a straightened boom. The M60 was followed by the M200 and eventually the M400, the first four-wheel drive skid steer loader on the market. With the M400, Melroe replaced the rear castor wheel with another axle to make the loader suitable for tasks other than manoeuvring on hard barn floors.

The Bobcat is born

Consumer demands for a stronger boom and bucket led to the introduction of a new lift arm two-cylinder system in 1962. The new Melroe self-propelled loader was renamed the M440 Melroe Bobcat by ad executive Lynn Bickett, who likened the machine to the tough, quick and agile wildcat. In addition to a name change, the paint scheme was changed to white and a new black and orange logo incorporating the old Melroe oval logo and a bobcat within a separate oval was introduced.4

By 1980, Bobcat skid steer loader sales surpassed sales of Melroe farm-equipment and Bobcat had become the biggest company in North Dakota, with over 2,200 employees.5 In 1988, and again in 1991, the Bobcat skid steer was named to Fortune Magazine's "America's Best 100 Products" list.6 In 1999, Melroe officially changed its name to Bobcat Corp. Today, the company produces a wide variety of Bobcat equipment, including compact track loaders, compact excavators, tractors and telehandlers.


Bobcat skid steer loader competitors

As popularity for the Bobcat skid steer grew, so did the number of competitors in the skid steer market. In 1969, Case introduced the 1530 Uni-loader, the first multi-purpose skid steer loader.7 Much more than a loader, the 1530's bucket could be removed and replaced with pallet forks, grapples or a ripper. By the early 1990s, John Deere, Volvo, Caterpillar, GEHL and New Holland had made inroads into the skid steer market.

Bobcat skid steer loader competitors

Skid steer loader features

No matter the manufacturer, today's skid steers still share many common design features:

  1. Drive system
    The drive system is powered by two hydraulic motors - one for the left side of the machine and one for the right side. Each motor is connected to a sprocket connected by chains to each of the four wheels. This design allows the left and right wheels to act independently of each other and allows for greater wheel torque.8
  2. Lift arms
    Lift arms run parallel to the machine's sides and attach at the rear, allowing for either a vertical or a radial lift path.3
  3. Quick attachment disconnect system
    Most front loaders come standard with buckets, but the bucket can be easily swapped using a quick coupler system for a wide variety of skid steer attachments, including pallet forks, angle brooms, sweepers, augers, mowers, snow blowers, stump grinders and more.3 Bobcat skid steer loaders use a "Bob Tach" mounting system to easily swap out skid steer attachments without the operator having to leave the driver's seat.9

The skid steer loader's small size and ease of maneuvrability makes it ideal for jobs where a wheel loader wouldn't be able to operate effectively let alone fit, such as cleaning out construction debris from underground parkades. Bobcat's skid steer loaders range in size from 8 to 12 feet in length, 3 to 6.6 feet in width (with bucket) and 5.95 to 6.95 feet in height. Bobcat's smallest model, the S70, has a rated operating capacity of 700 lbs and an operating weight of 2,795 lbs while its largest skid steer loader model, the S850, has a rated operating capacity of 3,950 lbs and an operating weight of 10,008 lbs.11

If you are looking to buy a skid steer loader, search our current inventory to find skid steer loaders for sale at upcoming Ritchie Bros. auctions.


  2. it began.htm
  5. Martin J. Padgett, Bobcat Fifty Years, Motorbooks, 2007
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